Two area health schools in works

St. Thomas and St. Kate’s will focus on primary health care.

Ahnalese Rushmann

Recent announcements of a potential medical school at the University of St. Thomas and a new school of health planned for the College of St. Catherine have the University of Minnesota paying attention, but not necessarily worried.

Last May, the University of St. Thomas and Allina Hospitals and Clinics agreed to conduct a study on the feasibility of a medical school. In late August, St. Kate’s announced it will be establishing a school of health to help meet growing and changing demands for health-care workers, according to news releases from both schools.

Despite these developments on the horizon, University faculty members aren’t worrying too much about the prospective competition.

Deborah Powell, dean of the medical school, said St. Kate’s school of health would be a complementary program to University offerings.

“They are not a medical school. They are preparing (some) students going into medical school,” she said of St. Kate’s.

One of the focuses of St. Kate’s school of health would be preparing health-care workers for a more integrated, team-oriented work setting. Powell applauded this mission.

“If students get used to that early in their careers, that’s very helpful to us,” she said.

Colleen Hegranes, senior vice president of St. Kate’s, said the school is acting based on information it’s learned from existing programs and feedback from health-care workers.

Hegranes also said St. Kate’s and the University are such different schools that they’re not competing for the same students.

“Creating health communities is the goal,” she said.

Meanwhile, the possible addition of a third Minnesota medical school by St. Thomas wouldn’t initially create heavy competition due to St. Thomas’ proposed class size of 40 students, compared with more than 200 students at the University.

Thomas Rochon, St. Thomas’ executive vice president and chief academic officer, said he realizes that establishing a medical school would be a growth process.

“We’d be making a modest contribution,” said Rochon, who’s coordinating the feasibility study.

At 40 students, the St. Thomas medical school would be one of the smallest medical schools in the country, he said. The St. Thomas medical school would be focused more on primary care, he said.

The University’s medical school was one of the top-10 medical schools last year in terms of educating family physicians, so the University educates primary care students along with specialists, Powell said.

Frank Cerra, senior vice president of the University’s Academic Health Center, said Minnesota health programs must take a step in a new direction.

“We can’t solve the health workforce problem simply by producing more of the same kinds of practitioners in the same way that we do now,” he said. “We have to find some new creative models of care delivery.”

Cerra said that partnerships such as the one between St. Thomas and Allina are beneficial to both parties.

Allina isn’t affiliated with a medical school in the way the University is with Fairview, and St. Thomas doesn’t have a hospital or clinic system, Cerra said.

Cerra said the University isn’t officially partnered with the St. Kate’s or St. Thomas programs, but said the school is open to the possibilities.

Sagar Patel, a genetics and physiology senior, recently applied to the University’s medical school.

Patel said that if St. Thomas’ medical school focuses on primary care, it wouldn’t be much different from the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s medical school that emphasizes rural medicine.

“I can understand their situation and I realize there’s a shortage of family practice doctors,” he said.

Ken Dodd, a neuroscience and physiology senior, recently applied to the University’s medical school and said that if St. Thomas established a medical school, he probably wouldn’t apply to such a new program.

“You never know what to expect,” Dodd said. “There are a lot of other programs that have really distinguished themselves, like the University of Minnesota.”

Dodd, who is interested in specializing in emergency medicine or neurology, said a focus on primary care is a good idea, just not one that particularly appeals to him.

Rochon said he was aware that a new medical school would lack the prestige factor that other schools carry. He said the growth process for the potential medical school would be similar to St. Thomas’ law school, which was reopened in 1999.

“You develop a reputation over time,” Rochon said.

“The percentage of applicants for law school has grown every year,” he said. “I think the same would be true for the medical school.”